Archive for the ‘Numbers’ Category

The Extravagance of God and the Irrepressible Kingdom of God   1 comment

Garlic Mustard Plant Invasion

Above:  Garlic Mustard Plant Invasion

Photographer = Steve Hillebrand, United States Fish and Wildlife Service

Image in the Public Domain


The Collect:

Eternal God, your kingdom has broken into our troubled world

through the life, death, and resurrection of your Son.

Help us to hear your word and obey it,

and bring your saving love to fruition in our lives,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 28


The Assigned Readings:

Numbers 13:17-27

Psalm 39

Luke 13:18-21


Numbers 13:17-27 and Luke 13:18-21 speak of the extravagant generosity of God.

Canaan, the Promised Land, is the bountiful territory overflowing with milk and honey in Numbers 13.  One finds similarly wonderful descriptions of the promise of the Jewish homeland after God has ended the Babylonian Exile later in the Hebrew Scriptures.  Those were dashed hopes, as the narrative of the Old Testament indicates, but the hope for a better future free from deprivation and foreign occupation continues to inspire people living in difficult circumstances.

Unfortunately, the ubiquitous slave mentality and unreasoning fear of the Canaanites led many Israelites to oppose entering Canaan.  Many, according to Numbers 14:3, regretted ever having left Egypt, where they were slaves but at least the leftovers were nice.  God punished the generation which had left Egypt, the Book of Numbers tells us, by granting them their wish not to enter Canaan.  At least God was merciful enough to refrain from striking them dead or sending them back to Egypt.

The generosity–grace–of God–demands a faithful response.  What will we do with grace?  Will we even accept it and its accompanying responsibilities?  Human life is transient, as the author of Psalm 39 understood well, but it does offer many opportunities to function as an agent of God to others.

Cedar of Lebanon

Above:  A Cedar of Lebanon, 1898

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-matpc-06183

Luke 13:18-21 provides two brief parables illustrating the irrepressible nature of the Kingdom of God.  In the first parable (verses 18 and 19) the Kingdom of God is like a tiny mustard seed, the small beginning of a large, if not noble, mustard plant–a large shrub, really.  A mustard plant, which can grow to be as large as twelve feet tall, offers shelter to a variety of birds.  Implicit in the Lukan version of the parable is that Gentiles are welcome in the Kingdom of God.  The parable shocks by not invoking the image of a mighty, impressive cedar of Lebanon.  Such imagery would indicate a mature plant.  The imagery of a mustard plant, however, promises continued growth.  The Kingdom of God is present among us, but not fully; there is more to come.

Then again [Jesus] said,

“What can I say the kingdom of God is like?  It is like the yeast which a woman took and covered up in three measures of flour until the whole had risen.”

–Luke 13:20-21, J. B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English, Revised Edition (1972)

The second parable is that of yeast which a woman hides in three measures (fifty pounds) of flour.  Most contemporary translations I consulted render a certain Greek word as “mixed,” but the proper meaning is “hid.”  The Revised Standard Version (1946, 1952, and 1971), the Revised Standard Version–Catholic Edition (1965), the Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition (2002), and the New American Standard Bible (1971 and 1995) render that word properly as “hid.”  The 1958 and 1972 editions of The New Testament in Modern English (J. B. Phillips) use “covered up,” which makes the same point.  The woman in the parable seeks to conceal the yeast by hiding it in flour, but the yeast permeates the flour instead.  The parable contains the element of hyperbole, for baking 50 pounds of flour, enough to feed 150 people, at one time, is perhaps improbable.  The hyperbole points to the extravagance of God and the irrepressible nature of the Kingdom of God.

Nobody among mortals can conceal or destroy the Kingdom of God.  That lesson comforts me.  Secularization of society and religious persecution are powerless to conceal or destroy the Kingdom of God, which is like yeast pervading the whole.  The blood of the martyrs waters the church, which has, in certain times and at certain places, gone underground yet remained alive.  The lesson here is about what God does, often despite what certain people do.  God is sovereign.  We can accept or reject that reality, but we can never change it.






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Numbers and Luke, Part IV: Difficult Vocations   1 comment


Above:  The Reports of the Two Spies


Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236


The Assigned Readings:

Numbers 13:1-3, 17-33

Psalm 92 (Morning)

Psalms 23 and 114 (Evening)

Luke 18:1-17


Some Related Posts:

Numbers 13:

Luke 18:


Marginalized people take center stage in Luke 18:1-17.  A widow, one of the more vulnerable people in a patriarchal society, has to intimidate a corrupt judge into doing the right thing.  A tax collector, who raises funds for the occupying Romans and lives off what he steals in the process, is humble before God, in contrast to a Pharisee, a member of the religious establishment.  And the Kingdom of God belongs to powerless people, such as children.  God, who is unlike the corrupt judge, justifies the tax collector and gives the Kingdom to the powerless.

Nevertheless, the widow still had to work hard to intimidate the corrupt judge.  And the tax collector had to do some heavy theological lifting.  And neither would resettling Canaan be easy for the Israelites after having lived in Egypt for centuries.

What is God calling you, O reader, to do?  And how difficult will it be?  The good news is that where God’s call is, one also finds God’s empowering grace and Holy Spirit.  Doing what God has commanded of you might be difficult.  It might take a long time.  And you might not live long enough to see the project completed; some sow seeds and others read the harvest sometimes.  But may you do as God has commanded, not losing heart.  Or, if you do lose heart, may you find it again quickly.






Adapted from this post:


Posted March 2, 2013 by neatnik2009 in Luke 18, Numbers, Psalm 114, Psalm 23, Psalm 92

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Consequences of a Slave Mentality   1 comment

Above:  The Sinai Peninsula (Gemini 11, 1966)


Numbers 13:1-2, 25-14:1, 26-35 (Richard Elliott Friedman, 2001):

And YHWH spoke to Moses, saying,

Send men and let them scout the land of Canaan that I’m giving to the children of Israel.  You shall send one man for each tribe of his fathers, every one of them a chieftain.

And they came back from scouting the land at the end of forty days.  And they went and came to Moses and to Aaron and to all the congregation of the children of Israel, to the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh; and they brought back word to them and all the congregation and showed them the land’s fruit.

And they told him and said,

We came to the land where you sent us, and also it’s flowing with milk and honey, and this is its fruit.  Nonetheless:  the people who live in the land are strong.  And the cities are fortified, very big.  And also we saw the offering of the giants there.  Amalek lives in the land of the Negeb, and the Hittite and the Jebusite and the Amorite live in the mountains, and the Canaanite lives by the sea and along the Jordan.

And Caleb quieted the people toward Moses and said,

Let’s go up, and we’ll take possession of it, because we’ll be able to handle it.

And the men who went up to him said,

We won’t be able to go up against the people, because they’re stronger than we are.

And they brought out a report of the land that they had scouted to the children of Israel, saying,

The land through which we passed to scout it:  it’s a land that eats those who live in it, and all the people whom we saw in it were people of size!And we saw the Nephilim there, sons of giants ffrom the Nephilim, and we were like grasshoppers in our eyes, and so we were in their eyes.

And all the congregation raised and let out their voices!  And the people wept that night.

And YHWH spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying,

How much farther for this bad congregation, that they’re complaining against me?  I’ve heard the complaints of the children of Israel that they’re making against me.  Say to them:  As I live–word of YHWH–what you have spoken in my ears, that is what I’ll do for you!  In this wilderness your carcasses will fall; and all of you who were counted, for all your number, from twenty years old and up, who complained against me, I swear that you won’t come to the land that I raised my hand to have you reside there–except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.  And your infants, whom you said would become a spoil:  I’ll bring them, and they will know the land that you rejected!  And you:  your carcasses will fall in this wilderness.  And your children will be roving the wilderness forty years, and they’ll bear your whoring until the end of your carcasses in the wilderness.  For the number of days that you scouted the land, forty days, you shall bear your crimes a day for each year, forty years, and you shall know my frustratration!  I, YHWH, have spoken:  If I shall not do this to all the bad congregation who are gathered against me:  in this wilderness they shall end, and they shall die there!

Psalm 106:6-14, 21-23 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

We have sinned as our forefathers did;

we have done wrong and dealt wickedly.

In Egypt they did not consider your marvelous works,

not remember the abundance of your love;

they defied the Most High at the Red Sea.

8 But he saved them for his Name’s sake,

to make his power known.

He rebuked the Red Sea, and it dried up,

and he led them through the deep as through a desert.

10 He saved them from the hand of those who hated them

and redeemed them from the hand of the enemy.

11 The waters covered their oppressors;

not one on them was left.

12 Then they believed his words

and sang him songs of praise.

13 But they soon forgot his deeds

and did not wait for his counsel.

14 A craving seized them in the wilderness,

and they put God to the test in the desert.

21 They forgot God their Savior,

who had done great things in Egypt,

22 Wonderful deeds in the land of Ham,

and fearful things at the Red Sea.

23 So he would have destroyed them,

had not Moses his chosen stood before him in the breach,

to turn away his wrath from consuming them.

Matthew 15:21-28 (J. B. Phillips, 1972)

Jesus then left that place and retired into the Tyre and Sidon district.  There a Canaanite woman from those parts came to him crying at the top of her voice,

Lord, son of David, have pity on me!  My daughter is in a terrible state–a devil has got into her!

Jesus made no answer, and the disciples came up to him and said, “Do not send her away–she’s still following us and calling out.”

“I was only sent, ” replied Jesus, “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Then the woman came and knelt at his feet.

Lord, help me,

she said.

It is not right, you know,

Jesus replied,

to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.

The woman replied,

Yes, Lord, I know, but even the dogs live on the scraps that fall from their master’s table!

Jesus returned,

You certainly don’t lack faith; it shall be as you wish.

And at that moment her daughter was healed.


The Collect:

Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Sometimes I wish that biblical authors had noted the tone of voice in which a person, such as Jesus, spoke, when writing about certain incidents.  The story of the conversation between Jesus and the Gentile woman is such a case.  But some details in the account provide fascinating clues.

Most importantly, Jesus was in the district of Tyre and Sidon, which was Gentile central.  And he went there voluntarily.  If he had a serious attitude problem regarding Gentiles, he would not have gone there voluntarily.  It is also vital to note that he granted the woman’s request to heal her daughter, even after his comment about throwing table scraps to dogs, who were allegedly impure and unclean animals, not beloved furry family members, as many North Americans think of domesticated canines.  But the woman expected our Lord’s mercy and made her case for it to his face.  She had faith and was persistent in it, and she went away satisfied.  She passed the test.

The Gentile woman did not have a slave mentality.  But the generation of Israelites that escaped from Egypt did.

Professor Richard Elliott Friedman makes the case for the existence of this slave mentality in his Commentary on the Torah.  Time after time the children of Israel had waxed nostalgic about Egyptian table scraps and complained about how God provided for them in the wilderness.  Mentally, they were still in Egypt, where they depended upon their overlords.  But YHWH offered them something far better–freedom.  Alas, they were not ready for it.  They were afraid of so much, mostly that they would die in the desert.  So they reacted fearfully.  Those actions had consequences, including their death in the wilderness.  Those who lacked a slave mentality were destined to reach the promised land.

This is what is really going on the the reading from Numbers.  The origin of the Nephilim is an interesting intellectual and mythological knot to attempt to untie, but it serves no useful devotional purpose for me today.  The Nephilim scared many Israelites; that is the important detail about them today.  The lack of faith and prevalence of fear in this matter constituted the last straw for YHWH in Numbers 14.  That is vital in this account.

At this time my mind turns to James 4:1-6.  It reads:

What causes fighting and quarrels among you?  Is not their origin the appetites that war in your bodies?  You want what you cannot have, so you murder; you are envious, and cannot attain your ambition, so you quarrel and fight.  You do not get what you want, because you do not pray for it.  Or, if you do, your requests are not granted, because you pray from wrong motives, in order to squander what you get on your pleasures.  Unfaithful creatures!  Surely you know that love of the world means enmity to God?  Whoever chooses to be the world’s friend makes himself God’s enemy.  Or do you suppose that scripture has no point when it says that the spirit which God implanted in us is filled with envious longings?  But the grace he gives is stronger; thus scripture says, ‘God opposes the arrogant and gives grace to the humble.’”  (Revised English Bible, 1989)

Humility, contrary to a widespread misunderstanding, is not beating one’s breast and considering oneself a worthless excuse for a human being.  That is low self-esteem.  No, being humble is having a realistic self-image in relation to God.  So a healthy ego–one neither too small nor raging out of control–is part and parcel of humility.  We humans bear the image of God, and therefore have inherent dignity others are obligated to recognize and respect.  The Gentile woman knew that she and her daughter had inherent human dignity Jesus was obliged to recognize and respect.  She insisted on this, and Jesus granted her request.  She asked–properly–for a just cause, and she received what she requested.  She was humble.

On the other hand, those Israelites with a slave mentality were not humble.  And neither did they expect the best, which they did not receive.  It was a self-fulfilling prophecy.  They were responsible for what happened to them.

Which story more nearly describes you?  If the answer to that question is damning, you can rewrite the rest of your narrative.  The children of Israel had many such opportunities, and they wasted them.  Learn from these ancient accounts.








Adapted from this post:


Posted April 20, 2012 by neatnik2009 in James 4, Matthew 15, Numbers, Numbers 14, Psalm 106

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